Tag Archive | Religion

Atheism could do without the naturalistic fallacy

Baby

An atheist yesterday?

I hear a lot of atheists laying into religion (well, duh), making the claim that atheism is the natural default we’re born with, and religion only exists because people are indoctrinated to believe it. I like that idea, and it rings true on several levels. We find it so easy to bring children up believing religious doctrines that are wild guesses at best. And we teach them these things as fact, not only introducing fables but loading them with emotional significance to ensure that they aren’t easily challenged and dismissed.

Unfortunately, this belief in “default atheism” is simplistic at best. Babies and small children don’t have any kind of comprehensive answer to major life questions, but I think the early tendency to see one’s parents as perfect, infallible paragons can fit into the most basic definition of theism without too much squeezing and breathing in. And even adults with no interest in religion can still be led down a theistic line of thought by a certain stirring at the wonders of nature, for example. Read More…

Thanks and apologies to my readers

TypingAs you may have noticed, I tend to be a bit down on religion. Not entirely, and I hope not without good reason, but it’s largely due to the nature of my story. I’m still on a journey from my former conservative evangelical beliefs, with various stops along the way, and a lot of my thoughts are directed towards ideas I used to hold and am now questioning or rejecting.

I know that I have a number of followers who are religious in some form or another, generally with a sensible, progressive or liberal approach and an awareness of the various problems with the sort of beliefs I usually criticise. I respect them both for their beliefs (even if I disagree) and particularly for their interest in reading things that are often less than flattering about religion. They are a valuable addition here, and I’m grateful for that. Read More…

In defence of scientism

DNAThis is going to sound a little strange, given the title of this post, but I’m not entirely convinced that such a thing as scientism actually exists – at least, not in the real world, outside those areas of apologists’ brains responsible for manufacturing pejorative boo-words to describe their opponents. It’s certainly pretty hard to find anyone who identifies as a “scientismist”.

One of the reasons I’m dubious of the existence of scientism is that it seems no one can agree on exactly what it is. In different hands, it can mean anything from the adoption of scientific styles and approaches by other fields to the belief that science is not only the best but the only way of answering any question in any field. This lack of agreement is another classic sign that it’s a boo-word, rather than a description of a genuine phenomenon. Read More…

Preparing to come out

It all started with the best of intentions.

First, there were a lot of issues that were flying around my head. My previous beliefs were becoming ever less secure, but I’d been through this before. Most people find their beliefs wax and wane, so this wasn’t anything I was going to bring up out of nowhere to people who I wouldn’t normally be discussing my theological positions with. It was just business as usual.

Coming OutThen I started to drift away, losing my fear of unbelief and increasingly exploring those areas and imagining a life without religion. It was different, but possibly no more than increased empathy and openness to different arguments. I stayed put in the church, and nothing really changed. Still nothing that was worth specifically mentioning to anyone. Read More…

Disorganised Religion – The story of the Muggletonians

Have you ever heard of a group called the Muggletonians? It’s not surprising if you haven’t, because they’re believed to be extinct, but they’re an intriguing (and frankly baffling) sect that lasted barely 300 years before their final trustee (and last known adherent) died, leaving the group’s entire archive of papers and correspondence to the British Library.

Bible GenesisThe eponym, Lodowick Muggleton, was a London tailor who flirted with the Ranters (another peculiar sect) before concluding that the power of reason was woefully inadequate, and apparently receiving revelations about scripture, along with his cousin, John Reeve. Interestingly, Reeve was initially seen as the leader of the movement from these revelations in 1651 until his death in 1658, at which point Muggleton took control and the movement began to be identified with him. Maybe that’s a good thing – Reeveonians sound so much less exotic. Read More…

Religion is the smile on a dog

Dog FaceNo no, it’s alright – I know, he’s a bit big and he looks quite scary, but he doesn’t bite – Down, boy, down! – he just wants to play. He loves old people, he’s always fussing around them wagging his tail, hoping for a treat. And children, too – he just loves children. Actually, now I think about it, maybe he loves children a bit too much…

Anyway, he’s a lovely pet, and really nice to have around. He’s so friendly, and he loves playing. I suppose you could say he’s got a bit of a one-track mind and I don’t think he handles complexity or change very well, but give him a familiar environment and he’s fine. Look, boy – see the relic – go fetch! Fetch it! Good boy. Aren’t you clever? Yes you are. What a clever boy.

Read More…

Top-down religious indoctrination is so last century – these days it’s all crowdsourced

Cult or religion? The line between the two is often controversial, but the word “cult” is clearly understood to be pejorative. It often appears in the form of an irregular verb:

I have a personal relationship with the creator of the universe
You are religious
(S)he is in a cult

Stained GlassOne of the more popular criteria for distinguishing between them is indoctrination, the idea being that cults indoctrinate, but religions are more respectable and allow people to believe without the coercion that word implies.

That seems like a pretty good working distinction, and it always seemed to fit with my experience. I’ve spent my life in the church, but I never felt that I was being coerced into any belief. Obviously, there was encouragement to believe this, or that, and I’ve been taught various doctrines, most of which I now reject, but I never felt that I’d been indoctrinated at any point. Except that looking back, it appears that I was. Read More…

A continuing problem of labels

After all this time, I keep coming back to the question of how to describe myself at the moment. I know who I am and what I believe, but it’s hard to put a name to it that I feel comfortable with.

I am a Christian because that’s both my upbringing and the entire background to where I am.
I’m not a Christian because there’s next to none of it that I still believe in.

Sun RaysI am an atheist because I don’t believe in any form of deity.
I’m not an atheist because it implies a degree of confidence I’m not totally ready for. Read More…

Why should I be scared of being proved wrong?

FlashI was following a discussion earlier where the claim was made that science is increasingly getting stuck at certain points, various scientific theories are evidence-free, and that the discoveries of the next century will consign atheism to an insignificant rump, if not oblivion. That was meant to be a taunt, but it missed the mark in a big way.

The arguments entirely failed to convince me, but while I must confess that I’m not particularly keen on the idea that my search for answers might be taking me on a trajectory away from truth and towards some sort of epistemological dead end, I was surprised and slightly amused that atheists were expected to react badly to the idea that evidence might eventually prove them wrong. Read More…

Is there a Christian Majority or not? It doesn’t matter

When the results of last year’s UK census came out yesterday, there was predictable interest in the responses on religion. The proportion self-identifying as Christian was down to 59% from nearly 72% a decade earlier, with “No religion” up by a similar amount to 25%. The British Humanist Association (BHA) welcomed this as a sign of a cultural shift, while some Christians continued to cling to the fact that according to these figures, they still had a majority.

The BHA are right to point out that as a way of finding out what people really believe, it would be hard to come up with a worse approach than the census question, but I feel that there’s a bigger question that isn’t being addressed: Why does it matter? Read More…

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